The recent Libyan revolution has had unexpected benefits for Elbit Systems, the giant Israeli arms company, while making the Israeli repression of Gaza more difficult.
Gangs of smugglers apparently looted Libyan government arms stores during the upheaval and made off with quantities of surface to air missiles sold by Russia to the Qaddafi regime. These might include SA-18 or SA-24 Grinch missiles, made in Russia. These apparently were sold to Libya outside the international arms control system (unsurprisingly).
According to Israeli sources some of these have made their way to Hamas, sparking a wave of hysteria in Israel.
The upshot of this perceived threat is that Elbit Systems has sold many units of its ‘C-Music’ system for protecting large aircraft from small surface to air missile systems known as ‘man pads’. C-Music uses a laser to ‘defeat’ the incoming missile. Military planes already have similar systems. C-Music is a version for commercial airliners, which is similar to one Elbit supplies for military aircraft.
After selling as many as 100 units for Israeli airliners, Elbit Systems is offering its system to the international market. At a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million per plane, that’s $100-150 million in sales for Elbit, not counting possible international sales. (Elbit states that its contract with the Israeli government for fitting commercial airliners with the system is for $76 million).
Despite the hysteria in Israel, there hasn’t been an instance of one of these missiles being used since 2002, when al Qaeda fired at an Israeli airliner and missed. Despite Israeli claims there isn’t evidence that Hamas or other factions would use the missiles against civilian airliners. Security officials point out that missiles of this sort are widely available from sources other than the chaotic Libyan aftermath.
The hysteria generated promises to deliver Elbit a ready market however, demonstrating how the excesses of the arms trade (eg Russia selling missiles to Qaddafi) leads to profits and proliferation of weaponry in an adjacent part of the world.
The flap has benefits for the Netanyahu government as well, which returns attention to the security needs of Israel rather than its ongoing repression and colonisation in Palestine.